Pushing digital boundaries

31 May

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Anyone who’s seen Girl Talk’s hyper-active mash-up set will tell you how clever he is at using unauthorised samples from different songs to create something new. While there’s still plenty of controversy surrounding how Girl Talk makes his style of music, remixing has become very much the norm, at least in the music world, but what about in film?

In RiP: A Remix Manifesto, filmmaker Brett Gaylor has made a mash-up style documentary about copyright and remix culture that challenges the powers of the major record labels and the big six corporations in the US that owns them.

In order to practice what he preaches, the film pushes the boundaries of copyright law and is a remix in itself, constantly evolving through Open Source Cinema, a mechanism created by Gaylor that allows you to personally contribute to the film by remixing videos from files on your computer or online.

The version to be screened at Luna Cinemas is version 1.1, but they’ve already made 1.2 with the plan is to keep remixing until version 2.0. So it’s a constantly evolving film, which highlights the issues we’re facing in the digital age.

“You give up all control,” Gaylor says on Skype from Montreal. “The approach I took was to consider that the internet is this flowing stream and you can just sort of dip your cup in and take some of it.”

The doco was filmed over a six-year period with eight to nine months in editing time. “It was crazy making it because it meant that at any given moment you could take it in a new direction.

“It was really hard on my editing partner because I would walk into the suite after having had a dream or listened to something on my iPod, which would send me off in some wacky direction…”

The manifesto is based on a concept created by Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, which states: 1. Culture always builds on the past. 2. The past always tries to control the future. 3. Our future is becoming less free and 4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.

The film is intended to rile people up and get them thinking, rather than to provide any solutions for managing digital technology. The people he’s chosen to represent his viewpoint tell their stories well including Girl Talk – “he’s just trying to make his music and the law is limiting him”; Negativland – an experimental band sued by U2’s lawyers; Brazil’s previous Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil; and Dan O’Neil a crazy character who founded the Mouse Liberation Front – you’ll never view Walt Disney in the same light again.

“It’s a hanging question at the end of the film as to where we go from here,” Gaylor says. “How do we ensure the balance is kept and artists are still compensated? Some people get angry that the film leaves this as an open question, but we’re still figuring it out.”

THE PLUG: RiP: A Remix Manifesto starts Thursday 4 June at Luna Leederville

[As published in The Wire Mag, The West Australian, 28.05.09]

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